The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the independent Broadcasting Board of Governors, neutralizing the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987—both of which are supposed to protect the U.S. from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.
The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R) Texas and Rep. Adam Smith (D) Washington State.
Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”
The bill’s supporters claim that the propaganda used overseas is too good to not use at home, and is needed to battle Al-Qaeda’s influence online.
“Clearly there are ways to modernize for the information age without wiping out the distinction between domestic and foreign audiences,” says Michael Shank, Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace in Washington D.C. “That Reps Adam Smith and Mac Thornberry want to roll back protections put in place by previously-serving Senators – who, in their wisdom, ensured limits to taxpayer–funded propaganda promulgated by the US government – is disconcerting and dangerous.”
The new law would give sweeping powers to the government to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”
Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.
The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already, and it was recently revealed by USA Today that the DoD spent $202 million on information operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.
In an apparent retaliation to the USA Today investigation, the two reporters working on the story appear to have been targeted by Pentagon contractors, who created fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in an attempt to discredit them.